The reunion is the 19th since 1983 and the first held in Reno.
“I’ve waited three years to do this,” said Wallace Green, 87, a Reno resident who served as a radioman in WWII and once went missing in action for about a week in the former Yugoslavia.
Family and friends joined the veterans during a weeklong celebration and commemoration of “The Flying Horsemen,” as the 449th Bomb Group came to be known.
“We look forward to it from one year to the next,” said Harvey Gann, 90, a former flight engineer and one-time prisoner of war.
According to a press release, the 449th Bomb Group was a component of the 15th Air Force during World War II and was activated at Davis-Monthan Field near Tucson, Ariz., in May 1943.
The group operated from a base in Grottaglie, Italy, from January 1944 to May 1945. Flying B-24 Liberator heavy bombers, the 449th completed 254 combat missions over central and eastern Europe, providing critical support for the Allied invasion of southern France and the tactical war in Italy.
Many of its missions involved the most heavily defended targets in Europe, including Vienna, Austria and Bucharest and Ploesti, Romania.
During the war, the 449th lost 118 aircraft (103 in combat) and 388 crew members. Another 522 men survived after being shot down, 363 of whom were held as POWs.
The 449th, made up of aircrews and support personnel, earned two Presidential Unit Citations and hundreds of individual medals for heroism, extraordinary achievement and combat wounds.
The Greatest Generation, as the veterans of WWII have come to be known, enlisted in the military for many of the same reasons that young men and women did after 9/11.
“I think most of us were so moved by Pearl Harbor,” said Floyd Trogdon, 87, a retired brigadier general who flew 50 combat missions in 1944.
But for all the accolades bestowed upon them, Green summed up the experience of war in a matter-of-fact way.
“We did what we had to do and was looking forward to coming home, that’s all,” he said.
The reunion recalls the sense of camaraderie and brotherhood the vets shared during the war. And this feeling has never been lost.
“You never let your buddy down,” Green said, describing the vets’ philosophy during war. And that ethic holds as true today as it did 68 years ago.
That’s why the vets are holding a memorial breakfast at the Silver Legacy Resort Casino today to honor those Flying Horsemen who died during and after the war.
“We just have a chance to renew old acquaintances and have a little remorse about the ones that’s already gone,” Gann said.
But despite the solemn commemoration, the vets retain a spirit and humor that belies their age.
“We probably are a couple of the better preserved,” Trogdon joked when told that he looked good for his age.
“This guy has held it together,” Green quipped about Trogdon.
In addition to its reunion activities, the 449th Bomb Group Association engages in numerous efforts to preserve World War II history for future generations. It has published a four-volume bomb group history and maintains a web site, www.norfield-publishing.com/449th/449site.html that includes mission summaries, crew lists and an extensive collection of aircraft nose art. Individual members of the 449th have recorded oral histories for the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress.
To further ensure that its legacy endures, the 449th Bomb Group Association has opened its membership to its “second generation” sons and daughters. Its reunions now attract second, third and fourth generation family members. The 449th’s last reunion was held in April 2010 in Washington, D.C.